From Royal Ballet to Broad­way via shower: Leanne Cope’s story

The China Post - - ARTS - BY JEN­NIE MATTHEW

Leanne Cope built a ca­reer in the rar­efied world of Bri­tain’s Royal Ballet. So it was some­thing of a shock when ac­claimed chore­og­ra­pher Christo­pher Wheeldon asked her to sing in a shower cu­bi­cle.

It was an un­ortho­dox au­di­tion for Broad­way’s new­est star, who made her New York theater de­but Sun­day night in new mu­si­cal “An Amer­i­can in Paris” — a re­crafted, mod­ern­ized ver­sion of the 1951 Os­car­win­ning film.

“I got a mes­sage from Christo­pher over Face­book say­ing I heard you used to sing in the school choir and would you be in­ter­ested in singing for me?” Cope told AFP ahead of New York’s star-stud­ded open­ing night.

“It was a Satur­day be­tween a dou­ble show­ing of ‘Swan Lake.’ I went up to the chang­ing room ... and I sang for him in a shower cu­bi­cle be­cause he said it would have the best acous­tic.”

At the time, Cope had no idea what it was for, but af­ter nu­mer­ous au­di­tions, she won the role of Lise Dassin, a French in­genue who falls in love with an Amer­i­can artist af­ter the lib­er­a­tion of Paris in 1944.

To play the role, she took a sab­bat­i­cal from the Royal Ballet, where she is First Artist, swap­ping one of the world’s finest clas­si­cal dance com­pa­nies for the razzmatazz of Broad­way.

“Yes it’s ter­ri­fy­ing, but even my hus­band says you’re a dif­fer­ent per­son when you’re do­ing this kind of theater,” she said.

“I think maybe I feel a lit­tle bit more at home here than I ever felt just do­ing ballet, so maybe this shoe fits.”

A Pure Dream

Based on the book by Craig Lu­cas and Hol­ly­wood film star­ring Gene Kelly and Les­lie Caron, the score is by Ge­orge and Ira Gersh­win and the mu­si­cal has long ballet se­quences choreographed by Wheeldon, who is also direc­tor.

It tells of the ro­mance be­tween Dassin and Jerry Mul­li­gan, who com­petes for her love with a U.S. com­poser and French re­sis­tance fighter turned cabaret star as they re­cover from the hor­rors of World War II.

“One of the big in­no­va­tions was that we were able to speak about Paris in a more grounded and truth­ful con­text,” Wheeldon told AFP.

“It is still a ro­man­tic com­edy but the ro­mance feels al­most more po­tent be­cause it comes out of this very dark pe­riod of his­tory, which makes it very dif­fer­ent from the film.”

The show made its world pre­miere in Paris in Novem­ber, dis­missed by one U.S. news­pa­per as a “try out,” win­ning rave re­views and sell­ing out 40 per­for­mances at the Theatre du Chatelet.

To cross the At­lantic, it has been tight­ened and per­fected into an in­cred­i­ble per­for­mance of el­e­gant danc­ing, par­tic­u­larly by the ex­quis­ite Cope, stunning cos­tumes and breath­tak­ing sets.

Sun­day’s open­ing pro­pels it into a crowded race for the 2014-2015 Tony Awards, one of 14 new pro­duc­tions mak­ing Broad­way de­buts in the two weeks lead­ing up to the April 23 cut­off for nom­i­na­tions.

Jean-Luc Cho­plin, direc­tor gen­eral of the Chatelet that co-pro­duced the mu­si­cal, says bring­ing a show to Broad­way is a dream.

Long Life

“I’m telling my­self I should just re­tire af­ter that, I have achieved what I wanted to do or I should do an­other one!” he told AFP.

Work­ing on the project for four and a half years, Amer­i­can pro­duc­ers Stu­art Oken and Van Ka­plan are hop­ing to make a big splash in New York.

“Part of your hope is that you’re giv­ing birth to some­thing that can have a long life, whether it’s in New York or pro­duc­tions around the world,” Oken and Ka­plan told AFP in a joint in­ter­view.

Their vi­sion was to re-craft the Hol­ly­wood movie, but say with­out Wheeldon it might not have come to­gether at all.

They were won over by his 2011 “Alice’s Ad­ven­tures in Won­der­land” for the Royal Ballet — “al­most like a Broad­way mu­si­cal” — and his chore­og­ra­phy for a 2002 Broad­way pro­duc­tion of “Sweet Smell of Suc­cess.”

“It’s hard for us to point to an­other chore­og­ra­pher that pos­sess the story-telling and ballet skills that were the pre­req­ui­site to even hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion,” Oken said.

The cross­over be­tween ballet and Broad­way also ap­pealed to Wheeldon, a Royal Ballet-trained for­mer soloist with New York City Ballet and one of the most prom­i­nent chore­og­ra­phers of his gen­er­a­tion.

“Part of the ex­cite­ment for me in do­ing this project was be­ing able to bring to­gether the more popular world of Broad­way and the art form that I love so much that needs con­stant rein­ven­tion,” Wheeldon said.


Leanne Cope, Christo­pher Wheeldon and Robert Fairchild on­stage at the “An Amer­i­can in Paris” Broad­way open­ing night at Palace Theatre in New York City on Sun­day, April 12.

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